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What's Next For Virginia's HOT Lanes

A week ago, the HOT lanes project was the best best for easing traffic congestion in one of the Washington region's most troubled travel corridors. Today, it's just one more idea we can debate endlessly, the same way we talk about getting hybrids out of the carpool lanes or getting better enforcement of the HOV rules.

Virginia's decision to delay the I-95/395 HOT lanes project almost certainly pushes the program into the next governor's administration, when we can have all the debates all over again. (The Beltway HOT lanes are not affected.)

Meanwhile, all the reasons for needing a congestion relief project on our main north-south highway will continue their advance. Even on Monday, as Gov. Tim Kaine's office was announcing a stand-down on the project, Transportation Secretary Pierce R. Homer said to The Post what he's said all along about a key reason for advancing it: "It is essential to serving the nearly 90,000 Department of Defense employees who live and work in the I-95/395 corridor." The base realignment program that will draw thousands more military employees into the area is proceeding.

Inside the Beltway
Malcolm T. Kerley, VDOT's chief engineer, wrote a letter to local officials saying the HOT lanes project team will continue to work with Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax County to address local traffic issues between Eads Street and Duke Street. "There is very significant work underway to address the traffic impacts of BRAC and other new development at Seminary Road and to minimize or eliminate local traffic impacts at the Shirlington rotary," he said.

However, "Better understanding of the local impacts and the operational issues at Eads Street will require more time and analysis."

Outside the Beltway
Meanwhile, he wrote, the project team will continue to work with Stafford, Prince William and Fairfax County to develop the portion of the HOT lanes project between Garrison Road and just inside the Beltway. That work will include identifying additional commuter parking spaces and other transit investments.

He said it's possible those improvements could develop more quickly than the developments inside the Beltway. (You can read the full text of the Kerley letter on Peter Samuel's TOLLROADSnews Web site.)

Bob Chase of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance calls the delay a setback, but how big a setback, he says, depends on whether it turns out to be short term or long term.

Chase, who is one of the region's leading advocates for transportation improvements, says: "There's no plan B (or even a plan A) for most of the most effective transportation improvements in this area because of lack of funds and political will."

"HOT Lanes clearly were the best bet for short-term relief in the corridor. Longer term relief will require construction of alternate corridors such as eastern and western regional bypasses to divert long distance East Coast traffic around the metro area and provide more direct connections to major employment and economic centers such as Washington Dulles International Airport," Chase wrote in an e-mail.

"Given national and regional population and job projections, we can never construct enough lanes in the I-95/I-395 corridor to met demand. Alternatives are needed to better distribute autos, buses and trucks."

But those alternative plans have been harder to come by than political and economic support for the HOT lanes project, suggesting that Virginia will stew in its own traffic for years to come.

By Robert Thomson  |  August 18, 2009; 10:36 AM ET
 | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, HOT lanes, Homer, Kaine  
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How do we get better enforcement of the speed limit on the beltway, which is 55 mph? In self defense one must drive at least 65 mph or get rear-ended by the many people going 80 and and some going 90 mph.

Of course, during rush hours, which now occupy at least 50 percent of the 24 hour day, speed enforcement is no a problem when the average speed on the beltway is 10 mph or less.

Posted by: foofoofoo | August 18, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

"Longer term relief will require construction of alternate corridors such as eastern and western regional bypasses to divert long distance East Coast traffic around the metro area..."

The Outer Beltway will never die! I've always wondered where they'd put the bridge for that over the Potomac. At Mason Neck? Nah, you'd cut through the park... Bit north of Quantico? Hmm...

Posted by: TheMatt | August 18, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Finally some good news!!!! HOT lanes were and continue to be a horrible idea. When he says "There's no plan B (or even a plan A) for most of the most effective transportation improvements in this area because of lack of funds and political will", he is exactly right. HOT lanes are not a "Plan A" and were a cop out for the area and not in the best interest of the people that actually need to drive on the roads.

Posted by: amaranthpa | August 18, 2009 12:21 PM | Report abuse

"How do we get better enforcement of the speed limit on the beltway, which is 55 mph? In self defense one must drive at least 65 mph or get rear-ended by the many people going 80 and and some going 90 mph."

How about they post a more reasonable speed limit of 65 mph, at least in the areas not affected by construction? 55 mph is absurdly slow except in some of the work zones.

Posted by: 1995hoo | August 18, 2009 12:27 PM | Report abuse

To address the main issue....

I have no problem with the Beltway HOT lane project, but I've never been enthusiastic about converting the existing two-lane HOV facility on Shirley Highway into a three-lane HOT setup because it strikes me as an unsafe design. The plan called for narrowing the existing two lanes and taking away most of the shoulder room to create a third lane within the existing footprint. Both aspects of that (narrower lanes and minimal shoulder) seem like a bad idea.

The one thing the I-395 HOT lane project would have done that would have been beneficial is to add a ramp at the Seminary Road interchange (off-ramp northbound in the mornings, on-ramp southbound in the afternoons). If you've seen the large building going up next to the highway at that interchange as part of the BRAC project, then you know why this ramp would be beneficial. Too bad the ramp won't be built otherwise.

But aside from all that, from a selfish point of view I like the idea of maintaining the current express lane rules on I-395 because part of the Beltway HOT lane project involves building direct ramps between the Beltway and the Shirley Highway express lanes. That means there will no longer be a need to exit the express lanes at the Turkeycock ramp in order to get to the Beltway on the way home from DC.

Posted by: 1995hoo | August 18, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

I'm happy to see the HOT lane idea for Shirley Highway shelved, and I hope it is permanent. I am VERY concerned about the impact it would have on the historic Park Fairfax and Fairlington communities, and on the newly revitalized Shirlington.

To be sure, there does need to be a solution for the new DoD complex at the Seminary interchange. I'm thinking that a high capacity mass transit line along I-395 is the right solution, not HOT lanes. This might be a good place for a Bus Rapid Transit line between Franconia-Springfield Metro and the Pentagon.

Posted by: jcflack1 | August 18, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse

WILL SOMEONE PLEASE ASK THE TRI-STATE LEGISLATORS TO PASS LEFT LANE PASSING ONLY LAWS. Granting HOV lanes to the wealthy will not ease traffic conjestion especially in VA. YOU NEED TO ORGANIZE YOUR ROADS and prevent drivers from doing whatever in any lane. Most VA drivers occupy the left lanes going under the speed limit making it impossible for people to change lanes and merge, then get mad when folks have to speed up and go around them.
If the stupid folks in VA get out of the way and let people pass traffic would flow make quick.

Posted by: blkisin | August 18, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

What's next for HOT lanes? Hopefully termination. I have never liked this idea that will allow those willing to pay exhorbitant prices (ie the affluent) to get access to adequate mobility on the highways, while those who are not affluent, will not get that opportunity, nor will the construction expansion dollars of the future be available to make their commutes better--they will only get worse. While those in the Lexus Lanes, paying exhorbitant prices, will get the VDOT dollars to make their commutes better....

This concept has its pros--unproven--in the area of supposed reduced congestion during peak hours, but I have my strong doubts about them. On the cons, however, there is no doubt at all that people with less disposable income will have a much harder time getting the places they need to go than those with that available income. That is NOT FAIR, and corrupts the use of taxpayer money for these roads.

Even if it's private money---sorry, these are supposed to be PUBLIC infrastructure, equally available to ALL!

SAY NO TO LEXUS LANES!!! They only help the rich.

This issue reminds me of the health care debate. The rich get access to good care, unless of course they start costing too much, meanwhile 50 million people are fending for themselves.....that's really worked out so well for everyone, hasn't it?

Stop using government to favor wealthy people and making false claims that it will help everyone. It's clear who LEXUS LANES are going to help, and it ain't everyone...

Posted by: DouginMountVernon | August 18, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

This was always a bad idea and I'm glad to see it postponed. The contract was a good one for the toll lane operator and bad for Virginia taxpayers and drivers. The contract had provisions to actively encourage single occupant vehicles and to discourage carpooling, ride sharing and slugging, as well as to restrict improvement to free roads that might negatively impact toll lane demand. Virginia would have had to pay the toll lane operator if too many multiple occupant cars were using the toll lanes. Death is too good for this toll lane proposal.

Posted by: ksu499 | August 18, 2009 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Grid-death and VDOT both have blinders on to anything except automobile-based transportation. The only high-volume solution would be rail or perhaps BRAT. I avoid reading him due to this severe handicap.
Of course, no one mentions that the BRAC effort paid absolutely no attention to existing commuting infrastructure, leading to (surprise!) new, unmet transit requirements.

Posted by: kashe | August 18, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

This is wonderful news. Anything that stops the creation of more Ruling Class Lanes is a good thing. Roads are for ALL the people, not just the wealthy. Tysons looks like a disaster area now, all for the benefit of a privileged few. Let's not repeat this mistake.

Posted by: rrno62 | August 18, 2009 2:29 PM | Report abuse

So glad they figured this all out after they took all our trees and make wondering around Fairfax county so terribly ugly, noisy and inconvenient.

Posted by: sarahabc | August 18, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Bob Chase clearly isn't an advocate for most working class commuters or taxpayers as a whole. HOT Lanes are lose-lose for 80% of this population. Either they are wasting your tax dollars on this public giveaway to Fluor-Transurban or you actually pay the toll to get from one bottleneck to another. At least one of those wastes is a choice.

Posted by: BurtReynolds | August 18, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

The biggest issue here, as with current HOV lanes, is the enforcement.

Carpoolers beware, you can't just drive into these lanes, you *must* get a new special 'switchable' transponder or you will be charged regardless of how many people are in your vehicle.

And no hybrid's at all apparently, guess all those hybrid's will be back clogging up the regular lanes.

By the website's own admission, the first line of defense is VA State Police. They claim it will reduce the current HOV violation rate of 20%. You see violators all the time because they don't enforce it. Why would this be any different?

Posted by: rpixley220 | August 18, 2009 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Set 85th percentile speed limits; enforce inattentive-driving laws as a primary offense; synchronize traffic lights.
Take "Report Suspicious Activity" off all those programmable signs and promote lane discipline or *efficient* merging near lane closures.
Ooops. None of these ideas requires huge investments or limits its benefit to the wealthy. What was I thinking?!?

Posted by: redlineblue | August 18, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Good riddance to a bad HOT program on the I-395-95 public highway. Now people can at least adjust their commute, at least on weekends, to use the express lanes to do their shopping, visit friends, etc. That would be gone with the 24/7 HOT plan. $1.60/mile means what, over $10 to go 8 miles? and Potomac Mills is how far away from DC and Fairfax County? Bad, bad idea.

Posted by: AdventurerVA | August 18, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

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